Current policies give some applicants unfair advantages
With many of the seniors fromÂ the class of 2023 beginning to receive admission letters from universities, questions begin to ariseÂ over why one student may be accepted over another in the collegeÂ admission process.
As the numberÂ of applications submitted to universities has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, criticismÂ of the methods used to examineÂ one’s academic capabilities hasÂ emerged.
Legacy AdmissionÂ Policies
Recently, attention towardsÂ legacy admission policies hasÂ grown after an increase in complaints over the bias this policyÂ holds. Legacy gives preferentialÂ treatment to applicants who haveÂ family members that attended theÂ same university that an applicant isÂ applying to. Regardless of academic qualifications, applicantsÂ whose sibling, parent, grandparent, or even extended familyÂ member attended that particularÂ university may be favored duringÂ the admission process.
Universities and colleges areÂ hesitant to reform or remove theÂ current legacy admission policiesÂ due to the many benefits they mayÂ provide.
One example is the number of donations universities receive from legacy admitted alumni. A study reports that 42 percentÂ of legacy graduates were found toÂ be top donors of the school whileÂ only 6 percent of non-legacy graduates were top donors. Along withÂ financial yield, enrollment yield isÂ more likely to be higher at a legacyÂ university.
The same study reportsÂ that on average, 74 percent of accepted legacy students attendedÂ the university. This higher enrollment of legacy students allows theÂ universities to plan financial packaging and enrollment in an easierÂ manner.
While legacy admission policiesÂ have been used and supported inÂ higher education for many years,Â the topic has recently attractedÂ controversy as there has been anÂ increase in calls for greater fairness in university admissions.
Many contend that these regulations are unfair because they favorÂ applicants who are already privileged. This often will put other applicants who are equally qualifiedÂ at a disadvantage since they do notÂ have the same family connections.
Legacy also can even affectÂ demographics of a university’s student body. The New York TimesÂ reports that in 38 elite collegesÂ and universities in the UnitedÂ States, legacy applicants wereÂ two to three times more likely toÂ be accepted compared to the general applicants. This in return hasÂ created many student bodies thatÂ are disproportionately white andÂ privileged.
It is time for colleges to strayÂ away from using legacy preferences due to its engine of inequity.Â An approach to resolve this issue could be to stop asking applicants to provide higher educationÂ information about family members.
The Common Application,Â an application that more than 800Â schools use, requests students toÂ report college information aboutÂ their parents such as where theyÂ earned their degrees. A simpleÂ resolution would be to remove thisÂ section of the application.Â Some universities have alreadyÂ taken steps to address the issue.
In 2020, Princeton University announced that it would eliminate itsÂ legacy admissions policy, becoming the first Ivy League school toÂ do so.
Recently, Johns Hopkins University has also ended their legacyÂ admission policy in an attempt toÂ allow more opportunities for applicants with fewer socioeconomicÂ privileges.
Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels speaksÂ on his legacy decision with theÂ Atlantic saying that he was disturbed with “This form of hereditary privilege in American higherÂ education particularly given thisÂ country’s deeply ingrained commitment to the ideals of merit andÂ equal opportunity.”
An admissions reputation ofÂ privilege and inequality is createdÂ by legacy admission policies. Universities should focus on admittingÂ students based on their academicÂ qualifications and potential, rather than their family connection.
In addition to legacy policies,Â the use of reviewing standardizedÂ tests like the SAT and ACT in theÂ college admission process has alsoÂ grown in controversy. This topicÂ has been debated for decades asÂ many believe that applicationÂ reviewers use test scores as an essential and persuasive part of theÂ applicant review process.
WhileÂ these tests can display one’s academic ability, using them in theÂ review process can bring biasesÂ and unfairness in determiningÂ who gets into college.
Although reviewing standardized testing should be a part of theÂ admission process, it should notÂ heavily influence admissions decisions compared to other application elements.
Standardized tests are frequently criticized for not accurately and completely reflecting aÂ student’s true academic potential.Â These exams frequently placeÂ more emphasis on a student’s ability to memorize and regurgitateÂ information than they do on theirÂ critical thinking or creative abilities.
This may result in situationsÂ where students who are strongÂ in these subjects have trouble remembering equations and rulesÂ and are punished as a result.Â Standardized tests are alsoÂ often biased against low-incomeÂ families.
Studies have shown thatÂ since it is harder for these familiesÂ to obtain test tutoring and struggleÂ to have access to elite high schools,Â they tend to perform worse onÂ the SAT and ACT compared toÂ wealthier families. Because theseÂ more privileged students haveÂ access to better resources, theyÂ have an advantage to score higherÂ on these exams improving theirÂ chances of getting into certainÂ universities regardless of their trueÂ academic potential.
In recent years, universitiesÂ have attempted to combat thisÂ criticism by implementing newÂ policies in which students canÂ choose to not send in their standardized test scores. AlthoughÂ this was implemented as a solution to students not being able toÂ take standardized tests during theÂ 2020 Covid pandemic, a majorityÂ of schools have decided to keepÂ this option available for students.
However, many have felt thatÂ there is both an upside and downside to this new implementation.
“It definitely has made the admission process a lot fairer for students who may not be the best testÂ takers and felt like their test scoresÂ did not fully reflect their academicÂ capabilities,” said a MinnehahaÂ senior. “But it also makes reviewing applications much more random and nuanced when there’s noÂ common factor on each student’sÂ application.”
While there may be someÂ justification for using standardized tests in the college admissions process, it is obvious thatÂ they should not be the only consideration. Universities shouldÂ work to create assessments of aÂ student’s academic potential thatÂ are more fair and precise. If not,Â schools run the risk of preventingÂ deserving students from realizing their full academic potential.
In-State vsÂ Out-of-State
In-state versus out-of-state admission favoritism has long beenÂ a concern in college admissions.Â This preference can lead to unequal access to universities for students living in different states thanÂ where the school is located.
Supporters of the in-state application process argue that it isÂ crucial to guarantee that studentsÂ from the state where the universityÂ is located should be given preference over out-of-state applicants.
They argue that the taxpayersÂ who help fund public universitiesÂ should have a right to see their tax
dollars used to benefit their ownÂ state’s students.Â Although there is some meritÂ to this statement, the priority andÂ bias should not be as extreme as itÂ is right now.
For example, UNC-Chapel Hill had a 2021 in-stateÂ acceptance rate of 41%. However,Â out-of-state applicants had a muchÂ lower chance of getting into theÂ same school with an acceptanceÂ rate of 13%.
A Minnehaha senior has feltÂ the effects of this issue first handÂ after applying to the University ofÂ Virginia.
“I felt like I had a shot of getting accepted since my statisticsÂ and credentials matched the suggested components that previousÂ admitted students had,” said theÂ senior. “However, I definitely feltÂ like applying from out-of-stateÂ hurt my chances of getting in sinceÂ they are so preferential to in-stateÂ applicants.”
In 2022, the reported acceptance rate of in-state applicantsÂ was 36 percent. Although still aÂ competitive acceptance rate, theÂ reported out-of-state acceptanceÂ rate remained at 18 percent- halfÂ of the percentage of in-state applicants.
“There definitely has to beÂ change in the future of the admission process,” said the senior. “NotÂ being from Virginia really hurtÂ my odds of getting in.”
A student’s family history inÂ education, standardized test scoring, and place of residence shouldÂ not be such a determining factorÂ in their ability to access certainÂ universities. There should be moreÂ equality when it comes to acceptance into public universities.